A Hearing Woman, but a Deaf Story: Why We Need the ADA Restoration Act
No, as far as I know, Charlotte Chenoweth is not Deaf. But don’t let that mislead you into assuming that her story has nothing to do with the Deaf community. In her case, she is accusing her employer of denying her “reasonable accommodations” under the Americans with Disabilities Act on the basis of her epilepsy. But if you tweaked the circumstances, and the requested accommodations, you could possibly end up with a “Deaf story” about why we all need the ADA Restoration Act.
Have you ever been pushed out of a job (or had an employer try to push you out of one) because 10 percent of the workload was originally intended to involve receiving phone calls for the office? And not been listened to when you pointed out that you could easily trade away these relatively minor phone responsibilities to a co-worker in exchange for taking over one of their projects? If so, then you have had an experience roughly similar to Charlotte Chenoweth.
Please read her story below. Some of boundary lines in her story are admittedly fuzzy. Did her employer discriminate against her or not? I’m inclined to say, “Yes,” but, really, I don’t know. I would want to know more details than are available in this story before deciding. But what I do know is, Charlotte Chenoweth did deserve at least to have her day in court. The case should have been decided, not based on arbitrary legal decisions about what is and isn’t a “major life activity” (Cooking and bathing independently? Driving? Ability to bear children?), but based on whether the employer actions counted as “discrimination.”
Is there any precedent at this employer for the specific types of accommodations she wanted? In this case, it appears the answer is yes: she wanted (as one of two options she suggested) to work from home a couple of days a week to complete paper work–which other nurses at her hospital have also done in the past. Are there circumstances, aside from her epilepsy, which made her requests different in a way that made it perfectly fair to turn down her request even when it apparently was not turned down for other nurses without epilepsy? I don’t know. But that’s one more reason why her case should have been heard in court–because the courts don’t know either. It was their duty to find out.
After reading Charlotte Chenoweth’s story, I hope you will also follow some of the links at the bottom of this article that will take you to web pages where you can learn more about how the courts have damaged the original intent of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Other links will lead you to places that can help you become involved in the effort to pass the ADA Restoration Act with just a few minutes of your time. For example, you could write letters to your senators.
This story is taken from text prepared by the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD).
Courts: 11th Circuit (AL, FL, GA)
Charlotte Chenoweth is a registered nurse from rural Florida with over fifteen years of nursing experience.(36) In 1995, Charlotte started working for the county health department, where she reviews the files of hospital patients for whom the County is financially responsible. Two years into her job with the county, Charlotte had a seizure and was diagnosed with epilepsy. Her doctor put Charlotte on an antiseizure medication and advised her not to use a stove or bathe alone, and not to drive until she had gone six months without another seizure.(37) Charlotte’s antiseizure medication also increases the risks of having a child with birth defects, and Charlotte decided not to have children as a result. During the six-month period after starting antiseizure medication, Charlotte asked the health department if she could do document review work from home for two days per week as she and others had done in the past or, in the alternative, if her hours could be varied slightly to allow friends and family to drive her to work.(38) The health department refused. Believing that her requests were reasonable, Charlotte decided to challenge the county’s decisions The county initially agreed that epilepsy is a disability under the ADA. But, while Charlotte’s case was still pending, the Supreme Court issued its 1999 “mitigating measures” decisions, and the county retracted this admission.(39) Following those decisions, the county started arguing that Charlotte’s epilepsy did not qualify as a “disability” and that she was not protected by the ADA at all. The courts agreed. Even though Charlotte had been unable to cook, bathe by herself, or drive until she had gone six months without a seizure, the court found that Charlotte was not “disabled” because none of these activities are “major life activities” under the ADA. Though it recognized that having children is a major life activity, the court refused to consider whether Charlotte had a “disability” because of limitations on her ability to have children due to the increased risk of birth defects from her antiseizure medication. The court dismissed this evidence that Charlotte meets the ADA’s definition of “disability” as irrelevant to her work for the county.(40)
(36) Chenoweth v. Hillsborough County, 250 F.3d 1328 (11th Cir. 2001).
(37) Brief for Appellant, 2000 WL 33988759, at *4.
(38) Id. at *5.
(39) Id. at *4.
(40) Chenoweth, 250 F.3d at 1330.
The introduction to CCD’s text is posted at ReunifyGally in the entry entitled “Real People, Real Stories: Why We Need ADA Restoration.”
Also see the first case story I posted, entitled “Thinking isn’t a Major Life Activity, Say Courts.”
The second case story is in the entry entitled “Where is Todd’s Day in Court?”
The third case story is entitled “Qualified to Work = Disqualification for ADA Protection”
The fourth is “Give Orr a Break.”
The fifth is “Doing Good Work? You’re Fired!.”
The sixth is “Why Everybody Loses Without the ADA Restoration Act.
This one is the seventh.
The eighth and last court case is “Unfair Precedent Ties Hands of Sympathetic Court: Why McMullin’s Case Highlights Need for ADA Restoration Act“.
PLEASE make an ASL vlog (or a written blog, if you like) on the ADA Restoration Act! If you do, I’d be delighted to link to you!
CCD has compiled an excellent collection of materials on the ADA and on the ADA Restoration Act of 2007, so it’s well worth following their link to www.c-c-d.org/ada. If you’re still new to the subject, this can help you understand why the ADA Restoration Act is critical to pass and why we should all be involved.
See my continually-updated list of blog entries from all over the web about the ADA Restoration Act of 2007, always available from the top navigation bar at “On the ADA Restoration Act.”
See examples of specific court cases that have served to undermine the spirit and intent of the Americans with Disabilities Act: click on “ADA Court Cases” under “categories” in the right-hand navigation bar. I still have one more ADA Court Case that I will post in the coming few weeks.
Also, don’t miss these links: One group of activists has posted a short list of simple ideas of things you can do to help get the Restoration Act passed. And do check out the ADA Restoration Blog for updates. Or browse through background information on the ADA Restoration Act. Or contact your legislators. It is particularly important to write letters to your senators.